“…theory is largely a game of make-believe in which we pretend, just for the sake of argument, that there’s just one thing going on: essentially we reduce everything to a cartoon so as to be able to detect patterns that would be otherwise invisible… One must simplify the world to discover something new about it. The problem comes when, long after the discovery has been made, people continue to simplify” (The Dawn of Everything).
Re-Discovering a Non-Dogmatic Cosmic Vision
Is it possible to think outside these national and supra-national controlling bodies on a communal level, while also relating to the cosmos outside the boundaries of any religious doctrines and beliefs (which are reductive surrogates of a cosmic perspective)?
A non-dogmatic approach to the cosmic perspective is one of the main themes of the Negative Geography inquiry. But I’ll try to approach it somewhat differently here.
If we were asked to imagine a cosmic perspective many of us would probably feel cornered into selecting one or another Ism or scientific theory or any conclusive opinion, whether rose-colored or ash-tinted. Or we might use vague terms like I used — “the whole” or “the cosmos”. Anything we conceive would amount to a cartoonish summary of something that can’t be pictured as a whole, because in picturing the whole we pretend to stand outside this conception in order to grasp it. In its place we relate to a singular projection of our imagination, which is separate from the observer, therefore a fragmented vision, not a real experience of wholeness.
We can’t picture, grasp or describe a cosmic perspective. It becomes a matter of faith. But there is blind faith in ideas, constructs, conclusions, dogmas. And there is a kind of “activated” faith that is creedless, that is “proven” by default, by running into our own limits and realizing that there is always something larger and more profound in the world. We don’t know what it is, but there is a kind of clear-minded faith that develops in what exceeds us.
I mean, even a cynic who doesn’t believe in “the whole of life” is summarizing the whole of life as non-existent. That is, we’re all forced to account for the cosmic lens one way or another, whether we want to admit it or not. Some fill it in with wishful thinking or cynicism, and some with scientific theories.
But is the cosmic perspective activated by filling it with words and ideas? Doesn’t this reduce the cosmic vision to a narrower and more static form?
Or is the cosmic dimension precisely that area of life that can’t be filled, that is constantly overflowing every container we try to build. If so, then the cosmic lens is precisely that state of mind which remains open-ended and uncertain.
The cosmic view, in other words, can be felt as a relationship to this solid limit in our understanding. It’s a vision wider than the widest view, because it detects the limits of every positive attempt to frame it. So there’s no need for a positive cosmic creed, only this direct experience of “something more”, something constantly escaping our grids of understanding (which I’m calling Negative Knowledge).
That “failure” is one way of describing the cosmic dimension. If we don’t activate this reverent state of weak-kneed awe before the ever-bountiful, but unknowable cosmic dimension, then we coil reductively towards the narrow and static construct, and die by asphyxiation in a joyless world.
(Yes, we can make derived creeds of this “void”, so long as they are mythic/metaphoric and capable of shifting as we learn, but that’s not the primary contact with the ineffable in my opinion. The primary contact is by negation).
But this doesn’t mean that we can’t think about the world metaphysically or develop scientific theories. We just need to realize that whatever rabbits of understanding we draw from the infinite hat of the cosmic dimension, they are derived forms (fictional forms) of understanding that will always leave open-ended questions that beg for more and far more radical forms.
The Example of Lenses
For instance, I’ve been saying that there are three primary lenses – the narrow (Self), the mid-range (Communal) and the Long (Cosmic). This is a theory. In other words, it’s a creative fiction.
But when I confess that I write fictions, many people would probably lose interest, because we think of fictions as lies, as the absence of facts.
But a fact by itself is just an unconnected dot of data in an infinite sea of data points. The honest fiction connects an inevitably limited number of dots to make sense of the world from one angle of approach. So facts primarily exist as elements of a fiction (whether honest or dishonest). In other words, we can’t understand any fact without understanding the context, which is the story that supports the fact.
For instance, some readers might reasonably argue that there are as many lenses as there are people. There are facts supporting this story too. It’s easy to see that every story is a different lens. So one can honestly say that there are an infinite number of lenses, rather than just three.
So which is right?
Both, but not in an equal or relativistic draw.
Is the narrower gauge of the issue more true? Does greater detail always imply more truth than a perspective that can simplify the detail into a clarity? (Don’t we get lost in the details until broader currents can be discerned?).
The better approach is to acknowledge that both vantage points are true, even if this sounds contradictory. From a relatively wide view there can be three lenses and from a narrower view (the particular or detailed view) there are an infinity of lenses.
And we could have also said that there are only two lenses — selfish and selfless, or literal and metaphoric, for instance. Or let’s say there are four lenses, the scientific, the business, the literary and the administrative (the primary focal points of academic life perhaps). Or we could have found any number of lenses, and these distinctions would have also provided different insights.
So I’m describing a perspective that is “wider than the widest view” – a perspective that isn’t a viewpoint in itself, but a new relationship to every perspective — because it sees the limited context of everything.
The strange and beautiful point is that we can’t see things “as they are.” We can only know reality through these limited fictional frames.
But this also isn’t the problem. The problem is taking these limited frames literally and never removing them. That’s the origins of dishonesty. Honesty isn’t “knowing what is true.” Honesty is knowing what is not true. Dishonesty means determinedly getting stuck behind a singular lens and losing that “seasonal fluidity”, which provides context and missing insights that may be essential for this particular moment.
If we learn this deeply, then we’re always buzzing with a certain reverent wonder at everything that exceeds the old stories. We’re rooted, then, in a cosmic perspective that has no creed or dogma of its own.
Here the word “wholeness”, for instance, doesn’t pretend to give us a direct perception of what this means. The language no longer pretends to say “here’s knowledge of wholeness.” We have learned that language can’t provide this kind of positive truth. So it does something else. It says, “here’s something unknown.” Odd Words such as “wholeness” point directly to the edges of our maps. Now we see it’s not possible to reach that full meaning in any symbolic representation, and this activates a journey into the territory itself, where thought silences itself, and a meditative or proprioceptive mentality begins.
See, I think we threw out the baby with the bathwater when we rejected a cosmic vision. We threw out a sense of reality that exceeds language and thought. We should have done what older cultures did, throwing out linguistic certainty in order to enter into a different form of “knowing”, which is to simply Be a part of life itself, a part of the whole.
But there’s something new here too. We’ve been forced to encounter the limits of thought in a way that ancient cultures never experienced to this extent, primarily thanks to computers, in a back-handed sort of way, by increasing the virtuality of life until it became a solipsistic trap beyond anything we previously knew. If you take that old Zen saying “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”, we’ve been grinding away at the ends of the second stage of development, stuck in the realization that from a certain angle “everything is a story.” The mountain of reality has gone missing under that cataract of stories. And so we dismissed that cosmic dimension (the grand narratives), as if no reality could exceed language.
So even though we’ve lost a lot that needs to be re-discovered, I think we’re also on the verge of breaking this solipsistic trap in a far more profound way, because we are facing the trap in a far more concentrated form. Where other cultures may have pecked through now and then, they didn’t resolve this confusion of thought and thing deeply enough to eliminate the potential for regression. I’m under the delusion, perhaps, that our resolution of this entrapment will be something humanity, the earth itself, has never learned before.
So here’s a run-on sentence to reflect the run-on nature of this perspective: This perspective changes our entire orientation to the world (changes our “nature”) from one that tries to pin the world down, argumentative, covering the cosmic void with rugs of competing conclusive certainties, which puts an end to learning, to one that is always listening to “something more,” probing the bountiful unknown with these canes of thought and language, like Helen Keller, feeling her way into larger and larger consolidations of perception, which will never be wide enough to reduce this cosmic dimension to a known entity.
With every tap the world grows more interesting when the cosmic dimension is no longer dismissed, or filled in with a singular theory or creed, but felt as a living force of perpetual corrective reversal, which is the negative trade winds of the universe, blowing us towards a constantly larger world.